Track: For Merrillville's Austin Jamerson, academics always firstMerrillville junior Austin Jamerson competes in the hurdles as well as the high and long jumps for the Pirates. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 9, 2012 10:28AM
Austin Jamerson missed a chance to race against a defending Illinois state hurdles champ when Merrillville crossed the state line to compete in the Homewood-Flossmoor Invitational two weekends ago.
It’s not that track isn’t a big part of Jamerson’s life — it is. But there are other priorities as well for the Pirates junior, who was out of town with his parents. They were visiting his sister Ashley, a former Merrillville athlete who’s now an engineering student at Harvard.
“Academics has always been first in my family followed by athletics,” Jamerson said.
But if his classroom work is job one — and he excels there as one of the top students in his class — then sports are job 1.5. Jamerson made a splash last season when he tied for third at state in the high jump as a sophomore with a clear of 6 feet, 6 inches.
He bettered that on Saturday when he cleared 6-6.5, setting a meet record at the West Lafayette Relays. And he’s not one-dimensional; Pirates coach Brian Past calls Jamerson his “triple threat” and believes he has a solid shot of qualifying for state in three events: high jump, long jump and 110-meter hurdles.
Being this good is still something Jamerson is getting used to.
“It was a complete surprise, because I wasn’t even seeded in the top 10,” he said of last year’s state finish. “I’ve always been lucky enough to jump consistently. I don’t have a lot of misses. That’s what saved me at the state meet.”
Indeed, eight jumpers all went 6-6 at state, but Jamerson’s accuracy was enough to boost him to near the top of that pack. This year, Jamerson is shooting for 6-10, the height that won state in 2011. He’s also aiming to reach 22 feet in the long jump, which likely would make him among the state’s best, and to get around 14.5 seconds in the 110 hurdles.
Though he has big dreams, though, Jamerson doesn’t have a big head, according to his coach.
“There are some athletes that almost thrive on their own arrogance,” said Past, who also coaches Jamerson in soccer. “In a way they need to feed that monster in their own head. (But) Austin is probably one of the most down-to-earth athletes.
“If you talk to him and didn’t pry, you wouldn’t know what an academic standout he is, what a great athlete he is. That shows that he has a grounded family.”
Jamerson and Past both credit the athlete’s parents — Alan and Denise — for laying the foundation for his success. Alan Jamerson, a former hurdler at Indiana State, coached his son at Pierce Middle School and still provides valued feedback.
“We take a lot of it home to the dinner table,” Jamerson said. “We take the tape (of the meet) home and look at it. We talk about track a lot, but it’s not the only thing in our lives.”
The trip to Harvard was evidence of that.